DWR: Don’t touch or take home baby deer or elk you find in the wild

SALT LAKE CITY — As weather conditions continue to become more favorable for hiking and camping this summer, individuals should be prepared if they come across a deer fawn or an elk calf during late May or early June. If individuals do come across one of these animals, it is important that they do not touch, try to feed or take the baby animal home, as doing so could have fatal consequences for the animal and could result in injury.

Deer fawns and elk calves are often born in June, which is why they may be seen during outdoor adventures in early summer. While often seen alone, it’s highly unlikely that these baby animals have been abandoned by their mothers.

“Newborn fawns are actually alone and isolated during their first weeks of life — and that’s on purpose,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Big Game Coordinator Covy Jones said. “The mother knows that leaving the fawn alone is the best way to protect it from predators.”

Newborn big game animals fall into two categories: followers and hiders.

  • Followers include bison calves and bighorn sheep lambs, which follow their mothers shortly after they’re born.
  • Hiders, such as mule deer fawns and elk calves, do the opposite — they hide, alone, for most of the day for the first two to three weeks of their lives.

During the day, a doe deer will reunite with its fawn for a short time, to nurse it and care for it. Then, to draw attention away from where the fawn is hiding, the mother will leave the fawn. The doe will spend the rest of the day feeding and resting.

Fawns are born with a creamy brown coat that’s covered with white spots. This camouflaged coat allows the fawn to blend in with its surroundings. Fawns also don’t give off much scent, so it’s difficult for predators to smell them.

Hiding is the best way for fawns to stay safe right after they are born. Then, after two or three weeks, the fawn grows strong enough to start accompanying its mother.

“Drought conditions are very hard on pregnant does and newborn fawns, in particular,” Jones said. “The lower food supply due to the drought leads to poor body condition for the adult deer, which can lead to low birth weights and decreased newborn fawn survival. Especially this year, please help the wildlife by not disturbing them.”

What to do if  a deer fawn or an elk calf appears to be alone:

  • Don’t approach it. Watch it or take a photo of it from a distance, but don’t go near it. In almost every case, the young animal has not been abandoned by its mother.
  • Don’t touch it or pet it. Finding and petting newly born animals is a problem because the animal’s survival depends on it being left alone. If touched, a scent may be left on the animal, which could draw predators to it.
  • Give it plenty of space. Getting too close to the animal can cause it to run away from, resulting in the animal using energy it needs to survive.  
  • Never attempt to remove a fawn or calf from the wild or take it home. DWR conservation officers occasionally respond to instances where an individual has taken a baby deer or elk home to “care for it.” However, that often has fatal consequences for the animal and can also create public safety risks as the animal matures. It is illegal to keep wildlife in captivity and can result in a class A misdemeanor. If individuals believe that a baby animal is injured or sick, report it to the nearest DWR office.

“Keeping your distance and not touching wildlife are the keys to keeping young animals alive,” Jones said. “Attempting to take matters into your own hands and trying to ‘help’ wildlife usually does more harm than good. Help wildlife by allowing them to remain wild.”

For more tips about how to safely live with wildlife, visit the Wild Aware Utah website.

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